By Sabariesh Ilankathir (17A13A)
Warning: This review may contain spoilers!
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. It’s important to note the significance of this movie.
It’s not The Star Wars Story but A Star Wars Story. It points to a vast universe filled with stories unexplored till now.
To many fans, this movie might seem to be an inconsequential one; a movie that doesn’t progress the main plot of the saga as much it expands it (unnecessarily, some might say). But I find it a welcome addition to this beautiful universe first seen in 1977.
It depicts the story briefly referenced in the beginning of A New Hope (Star Wars Episode IV, the first movie in the series), where a group of brave rebels steal the plans to the Galactic Empire’s superweapon, the Death Star, which leads into the “technological terror” seen in A New Hope. This movie isn’t about Skywalkers and instead about soldiers.
Felicity Jones plays Jyn Erso, a fugitive, who happens to be the daughter of the infamous Death Star’s chief engineer (played by Mads Mikkaelson). Jyn finds herself destined to steal the Death Star plans and command a rebel ship code-named Rogue One along with other rebels.
The female lead, living life on her own, being recruited into the rebel cause to fight for liberation seems to have become a motif in the modern Star Wars canon first seen in The Force Awakens in the guise of Rey and now in Rogue One.
Despite this seemingly empowering premise, I personally believe that this story should have never had Jyn Erso as the centrepiece. She functioned better as the catalyst to the rest of the events and even the movie realizes this midway, where it stops chronicling her exploits and starts fleshing out the galaxy-wide war (the star war, ha) that we previously witnessed only through rose-tinted glasses (I’m looking at you Ewoks).
It’s a problem, because apart from snapshots of Jyn’s past and family life, we have nothing much to hold onto in terms of a larger character arc. It seemed a little of a leap in character development when Jyn’s character seemed to jump suddenly from complacency to monologuing on morals and principles, and when she started having a say in the rebellion’s actions, just because she was the designated heroine of the story. It would have made for much better entertainment if they had eschewed all that and instead focused on showcasing the entire ensemble as equally instrumental in triggering the mission. Jyn doesn’t have the luxury of three movies to become a fully-fledged heroine, but neither does she have to be for this movie to be successful.
Rogue One takes some time to realize that it isn’t so much a character movie as much as it is a war movie.
Its predecessors have always prided themselves in being heavily based on the traditional Hero’s Journey. Rogue One is very different from the rest in that its structure and its motivations don’t originate from the same DNA. This movie was trying to tell a different story and it would have been more successful if not for the slight detour at the start by putting Jyn front and centre and following her for the whole of the first act. That’s one of the movie’s greatest downfalls.
This would have been an excellent opportunity for the audience to witness the workings of the Rebel Alliance more than any single character. However, when it did realize this, it started picking up the pace and started becoming more confident in its ability to tell this different story about the war itself.
This film, however, stands on its own because of its ability to tell this different story. It draws visual inspirations from a whole array of films, not excluding Saving Private Ryan. The true implications of war have never been made clearer before. For example, the decision to place the main characters on the city, getting destroyed by the Death Star, was ingenious because it gave the audience a whole new perspective of the devastating effects of the Death Star (as opposed to the original Star Wars movie, where the destruction of an entire planet was glossed over).
That was truly fresh for this franchise that seems to be more comfortable churning out Death Stars than it is with dealing with the implications of these dastardly machines.
Of course, this movie is also unique to this franchise in that it wasn’t about the grander battle between the Jedi and the Sith, which has laid the foundation for past stories. Here, the lines of heroism and villainy are so blurred that the audience doesn’t seem to have anyone to root for. The concept of Cassian Andor (played by Diego Luna), a rebel spy who has no qualms with killing, is unprecedented in this saga (yes, even Han Solo doesn’t match up to this).
I would have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the action scenes. We’ve not had energetic and brutal action scenes in this saga since the prequels. This movie more than made up for the wait. The blind (both in his vision and in his devotion to the Force) Chirrut Imwe (played by Donnie Yen), had some of the best fight scenes. His dramatic entrance, fending off stormtroopers could be noted to be one of the best fight scenes in the entire saga. The pure energy in the scene was breathtaking. For a movie that eschews the more mythical elements of the franchise, this scene and this character were welcome additions.
Of course, the scene that probably made us all realize that this franchise still has a few tricks up its sleeve would be Darth Vader’s rampage. It was the moment that we’ve been waiting since there were calls for the prequels to be made. It was one of the best displays of the Force and it finally cemented Darth Vader as the brutal and evil character that everyone speaks of him to be.
On the topic of death, Rogue One also managed to give us a completely different perspective with regards to the death of soldiers. Since Force Awakens, it doesn’t escape notice that soldiers in these movies are not as dispensable as they were made out to be in the past. By giving a face to a stormtrooper in The Force Awakens, and by allowing the audience to witness the death of one of these soldiers at such proximity, was definitely a unique experience.
This theme is heavily featured in this movie especially in the final battle. The number of soldiers dying is the same as any other blockbuster about a war but suddenly, it feels a lot more personal because we witness these deaths from the perspectives of other soldiers themselves. This is a unique theme in the franchise that is often more concerned with the realm of the Force than it is with the flesh and blood that occupies the screen.
That brings us to the elephant in the room.
All the main characters are killed off in this film. I found this monumental, not just because it was Disney engaging in a massacre of its own characters, but because it was surprising considering how the question on everyone’s minds these days seems to be “When’s the sequel coming out?”.
This movie completely did away with that convention by leaving no room for any half-hearted, money-milking sequel to come out and that was truly appreciated. This movie made it perfectly clear that we could have an engaging story even without prolonging it endlessly through sequels. It was proud of being a standalone film and that’s rare in Hollywood these days. The montage detailing the sacrifices made by each character, not because of some sense of self-righteousness or some lofty ideal but because of the necessities of war was a beautiful display.
I’ve been a Star Wars fan for as long as I can remember. I got into the culture because of the action figures. Then I watched the films and I was sold.
But deep inside, I’ve always felt like I didn’t own that right to love Star Wars and be a part of it. I wasn’t there when the original movies were released. I was barely a kid with a functioning memory when the prequels were released so I was in a tough spot. I was hoping for The Force Awakens to change that and it did, I guess, in a way. But it too sought to emulate a bygone era. I think that’s why Rogue One has a special place in my heart.
I guess, the parts which irked me the most were the ones which tried to insert as my guest stars as possible and try to wink and nod ferociously at the audience; to me, it felt unnecessary. If it had been confident of its ability to pull off a Star Wars movie without leaning at all on the original films, then it would have been something even more special. Nonetheless, it did make for a good watching experience.
Is it a cinematic masterpiece? Probably not. But it is a class above many other films marketed towards the same demographic. I enjoyed it thoroughly and in wait for the rest of the movies in this new Expanded Universe.